Archive for April 13th, 2010

April 13, 2010

Changeless

[Spoiler warning: if you haven’t read Soulless and don’t want the plot given away you might want to not read this post. Go and buy Soulless instead – it’s really good.]

Gail Carriger’s Soulless was an excellent first novel – hilarious fluff with moments of actual creepiness. One of its biggest strengths, for me, was how familiar it felt; the tropes being referred to are recognisable, are lovingly retraced and parodied, and the result was still incredibly fresh. It was as if Carriger and I had similar bookshelves and that is the sort of thing that makes you feel safe.

Changeless is a completely different sort of book, and I suspect it’s a better one.

Changeless begins with Alexia (now Lady Woolsey) finding out about a mysterious affliction affecting all the supernatural beings in the city. In her new post as muhjah to the queen, Alexia tracks the source of this malady to Scotland; upon which journey she is accompanied by her sister (catty), her best friend (featherheaded, in love, and devoid of fashion sense), her husband’s valet (actor with odd taste in women) and a French milliner/inventor/genius (delicious, and possibly trying to kill her). It’s all most inconvenient, and someone tries to throw her overboard, and her wonderful new parasol won’t open when it rains, and then she has to sort out the messy family affairs of her husband’s pack who have recently returned from Egypt…

Carriger really plays up the steampunk element in this book, with the dirigible (mentioned and depicted on the cover) and the aethographors and Madame Lefoux’s tech-geekery.

So Changeless is funny and silly and geekful. But it also feels to me to be a lot more substantial than Soulless.From a couple of things I’ve read, I’ve gotten the impression that Carriger’s conception of these books is deeply rooted in the history and the structure of the British Empire. With this book (and possibly because of Alexia’s new political role within the plot) you get a much wider sense of the existence of the empire, which made the fictional universe a lot stronger for me. I suspect that with the next book we’ll see even more of this. I loved the inclusion of Egypt in the plot – Victorian England’s* relationship with Egypt is something that fascinates me and it’s always fun to see it referred to.

The one thing that did annoy me a little was the way in which Ivy and Felicity are both treated by the text – I’m choosing to believe that their characters are going to be the subjects of some startling reveals in the next book, and that their uni-dimensionality here is intentional.

Soulless did the (capital R) Romance brilliantly, but I didn’t think it was as good at actual emotion – when emotional scenes happened they were touchingly awkward (Maccon telling Alexia she’d been raised to feel unworthy? Aww). When the focus of the book is off the Alexia-Maccon romance the relationship between the two is a lot easier to see. Changeless does emotion a lot better -Near the end of the novel there is a moment that is actually gutwrenchingly sad (and also a cruel, cruel cliffhanger). Everything about the text of Soulless reassures you and lets you know that nothing too awful will happen. Lord Akeldama will not be killed by rogue scientists; Alexia will end up with the hot, rich man who loves her; all will be well.

With Changeless that certainty is taken away, and suddenly it’s just not that comfortable anymore. And as much as I adored Soulless for precisely that comfort, I rather think I love this.

*And Scotland’s, of course.